Friday, May 6, 2011

The Formation of the Superclub

The two most popular and perhaps most powerful leagues in the world are The English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga. Aside from millions of dollars and sports friendly geography, these two leagues have something very interesting in common: they each have the dreaded “Superclub”. In fact, the EPL has several: Manchester United, Chelsea FC, and Arsenal FC. Of course, if you count this status based on money we cannot forget Manchester City. Across a few lines on a map you have Spain. This league boasts the world’s most expensive line up in Real Madrid and the world’s most impressive team in FC Barcelona. “Lesser” teams circle their calendars for dates with these Superclubs. Let’s examine some of the benefits for having these clubs.

Superclubs provide a benefit on several levels; the most notable comes in the number one indicator: attendance. Fans pack stadiums to watch their boys face off against these giants of soccer. Do they come only to cheer on their team? Certainly some do. Do they come to see some moment of brilliance from the mercurial Messi, the flare of Ronaldo or the lethal eye of Wayne Rooney? More than a few come with hopes of this special moment. It’s for the same reason that more people worldwide tune in to watch these games on their television sets (and computers). More tuned in means more sponsorship dollars. More, more, more. That’s what these Superclubs bring to the table.

This begs the question: why has Major League Soccer resisted such a powerful marketing tool? Well, in their defense, they’ve had valid reasons to avoid this. In the beginning and even still, MLS means parity. The higher ups have emphasized that the single entity structure of MLS and the salary cap in order to give each team a competitive product on field. There are benefits to this and there is value in allowing the smaller market teams publicize their team as the champion ala Colorado and FC Dallas of 2010. Are the benefits worth it? Are they worth it when weighed against the value of the Superclub. The problem is, they are not. Those days are behind the league and it’s time to embrace that which will spread the game.

It has already started mind you. One needs to look no further than the New York Red Bulls. This team boasts a world known Designated Player in Thierry Henry and a Mexican national teamer in Rafa Marquez. Of course there’s the young upstart American national teamer in Tim Ream (the irony of his tutelage from Marquez should escape no one), a Canadian and league hero in Dwayne De Rosario, and finally the latest and most exciting US National Team prospect: Juan Agudelo. There are more great names on the Red Bull roster. Solli, Rooney, Lindpere…perhaps Rodgers? Each of these names brings something to the table. Each of these names could put one more fan in a seat; allow one more fan to tune in.

Does the name match the product? It's starting to. Hans Backe's men are rounding into form with an impressive attacking prowess. Goals from a high flying attack supported by the stalwart defending of Mexican DP Rafa Marquez. Anyone looking for intelligent and attractive soccer need look no further than the Red Bulls. They're a product worth selling. They are something to pay close attention to.

Rest assured, the MLS brass have their eyes on New York.

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